Earlier this year, I recounted my memories of Dennis Rodman, my favorite athlete growing up. Among the things I touched on in that post was the fact that Rodman’s game appealed to me so much, his presence on the Bulls was strong enough to make me root for the one team I absolutely despised as a kid. As much as his jersey retirement ceremony tonight will be about Detroit claiming him as one of ours, Rodman doesn’t totally belong to us, as much as we want him to. We have to share him, and not just with anyone: with a team whose players say things like this. It’s an uncomfortable alliance to be sure, but Rodman was an absolute star on three title teams with Chicago and there’s no removing the success he had in Chicago from the entire package.
I know very well how conflicted Rodman’s presence on the Bulls made me feel at first as a Detroit fan who very much bought into the hatred the Pistons and Bulls had for each other in the heyday of the rivalry. What I’ve always wondered about, however, is how Bulls fans reconciled both Rodman joining their team and his place in that franchise’s history. Bulls fans certainly hated those Pistons teams, but of all of the Bad Boys, Rodman had to be up near the top of most loathed because of his many run-ins with Chicago, notably the scar that is still on Scottie Pippen’s chin that Rodman is responsible for. Matt McHale from the great TrueHoop Network Bulls blog Bulls By the Horns was kind enough to offer some thoughts on whether Rodman’s name will ever be in the rafters next to Jordan, Pippen and Phil Jackson:
Well, Dennis was a significant contributor during the Chicago’s second threepeat. No question about it. But the idea of retiring his jersey introduces a quandary. Was Dennis any more important to the Bulls’ second three titles than, say, Horace Grant was to their first three? Was he more indispensable than Bill Cartwright? Or Toni Kukoc? Or John Paxson? And I could go on.
So that’s the problem. There were several players who had crucial roles on those six championship teams. If the Bulls decided to retire more jerseys from those teams, where would they begin and where should they stop? If you retire Rodman’s jersey, you almost have to retire Grant’s. And if you retire Grant’s, shouldn’t you retire Cartwright’s? So on and so forth. It’s a slippery slope. And I don’t think Jerry Reinsdorf would do that. Heck, there’s a player from an earlier era, Norm Van Lier, whose jersey should probably be retired but hasn’t been. If Stormin’ Norman’s jersey hasn’t gone up in the rafters, Rodman’s won’t either.
Matt also explored the topic in much greater detail from a Bulls’ perspective on his own site, so check that out.
Bulls players certainly moved past the rivalry with Rodman as a Piston, with Pippen even stumping for Rodman to get into the Hall of Fame. Only a handful of players have their numbers retired by two teams., and as Matt points out, Chicago has been pretty conservative about honoring former players. While the Pistons retired the numbers of Laimbeer and Vinnie Johnson, to exceptional players but not the superstars of the Detroit teams they were on, Chicago has refrained from retiring the numbers of their vital complimentary players like Grant, Cartwright, Paxson and Kukoc. The only Bulls who have been honored are Jordan, Pippen, Bob Love, Jerry Sloan and Phil Jackson. That’s a pretty high standard for jersey retirement, even if Rodman’s three Chicago seasons saw him play at an extremely high level. But to see his number hanging both in Detroit and Chicago someday would be truly remarkable, looking back on that era of basketball. And even if the Bulls are hesitant to retire the number of a guy who was only there three seasons, it’s not like anyone is ever going to request the No. 91 again anyway. They might as well do it.